Barrow House has been in continuous use as a hostel since 1961 but we still managed to have lots of firsts in 2015. There was our first open day for teachers, our first camera footage by drone, the first paramotor launch from the grounds, the first contactless payment by mobile phone, the first school group to forage for pig nuts in our meadow, the first Merchant Navy mess dinner, our first Hungarian and Italian volunteers, and many more besides. Unfortunately we also experienced our first major storm damage, but our staff, volunteers, and contractors are doing a fantastic recovery job, and we hope you will still be keen to visit Cumbria and show your support for local businesses.
Thank you to everybody who made 2015 a really successful and enjoyable year at Barrow House. We hope you have a great start to 2016, and we look forward to seeing you as soon as possible.
We are in a sound financial position, following a healthy couple of years, and so thank you to all the staff, guests, visitors, and volunteers who have contributed to our success. We are using our surplus to make considerable improvements to the hostel, including a fund for subsidising educational residentials, and we hope you enjoy their benefits. Here is a summary:
- Bell, the professional local painters, have painted the dining room and front entrance in Georgian-style colours. They have also painted some of the corridors, and all of the first floor doors and woodwork. Staff and volunteers have also done lots of painting.
- The central heating has been extended to Rooms 2, 3 and 4, the first floor corridor, and the first floor shower area. Guests can now adjust the radiator temperatures: a great improvement.
- Room 12 has had a fabulous make-over, with tanking and plaster boarding by Billy Edmondson. Billy worked so hard and so cheerfully.
- Nicola has made several new curtains, with fabulous material from Textures, a Keswick shop. The new curtains in Room 1 are going to look particularly impressive.
- Volunteers Kinga Anheuer, Alex Scott, and Ted Ferguson worked very hard in the grounds, transforming the area by the veteran yew tree and the fenced garden.
- We have created a DIH Fund for subsidising school and youth group residentials, with awards of up to 1000 pounds per group. This is open to groups from any area, but there is a simple application form to assess need. Please spread the word if you know of a school or youth group who might be able to benefit.
As you may have seen on the news, or experienced yourself, the rain and wind which came in December caused a lot of damage in Cumbria and further afield. Luckily nobody at the hostel was hurt, and the house is dry and intact, but sections of the river bank in our grounds collapsed, causing damage to our service pipes. Thank you to everybody who has been so understanding and supportive, and we hope you are not severely affected by the storms that have ravaged so many other areas in the past month.
Here is a summary of how Storm Desmond affected the hostel:
On Saturday 5th December water started coming into the managers' house, but the hostel staff and volunteers were brilliant, moving all the furniture and belongings upstairs. Luckily there was not too much damage.
Nicola and volunteer Alex Scott (Scottie) cycled through the floods to get to and from work, but the road was impassable on Sunday 6th December and so they helped out at Keswick Hostel instead.
Water was pouring down the fell sides, bringing rocks and vegetation with it. The driveway was like a river! The lake rose over the Borrowdale Road, with waves lapping at the driveway.
The banks of Barrow Beck collapsed, taking away a section of the footpath that runs behind the dining room.
The Penstock pipe, which transports water from the dam to the hydro-turbine shed was ripped away.
Our water supply pipe, which runs through the banks of the beck, was damaged. We realised this when the mains water supply was restored to Borrowdale (having been damaged), but nothing appeared for us! Luckily our plumbers (Keswick Plumbing) and builder (Billy Edmondson) went beyond the call of duty, repairing our water supply pipe very quickly.
Our main sewage pipe was also damaged, putting most of our toilets and showers out of use. This is one of the reasons that we had to close to guests.
The insurers and loss adjuster reacted very quickly to appoint a structural engineer from a Kendal company R G Parkins, who then appointed Maryport contractors Thomas Armstrong to undertake the repair job. The contractors worked really hard, all the way into Christmas Eve afternoon, to shore up the banks of the beck, moving 40 000 pounds worth of rock armour into the channel by the hostel. Hostel staff watched in amazement at the skill of the digger drivers as they manoeuvred the giant boulders into place. This has prevented damage to the house foundations.
The hostel had to cancel bookings for December and January. We were very sad to disappoint so many families and groups, but the job was made much easier by everybody's understanding.
Our staff have been very positive and helpful, but it feels odd when we don’t have guests. We were looking forward to a jolly period of work in December and January, with bookings for pre-Christmas and New Year parties, but we have been keeping busy with maintenance jobs instead, and the hostel will look very shiny and clean when we re-open.
There have obviously been detrimental effects for our suppliers, and other local businesses, but we hope to be open as soon as possible, and the community spirit in Cumbria has been wonderful to see.
Nicola, our senior assistant, has recorded some of her experiences of Storm Desmond. Please get in touch if you would like a copy of the longer version and some of her tips for cycling through deep puddles...
I hadn’t anticipated how extreme the weather on Saturday 5th December 2015 was going to be. I’d heard the flood warnings, but I hadn’t been able to picture what was to come.
I woke up to torrential rain, but that was not unusual. However, later in the morning the lake started to flow across the road, and new rivers of water tore down the driveway. I decided to ring the guests who had booked for the weekend to tell them not to come.
I was just about to ring Alex Scott (Scottie), our current volunteer from Australia, when he appeared at the hostel. He had cycled through huge swathes of water on the Borrowdale Road, but he was incredibly cheerful: amazing! Later that day we cycled back to Keswick together, and although it was a bit scary it was definitely safer than driving. As we got towards the town centre, we realised that the road had been closed, but some cars were still driving past the barrier. However, I did at least manage to stop one non-local driver, who was planning to follow his sat-nav over Honister Pass to avoid the A66 road closure: I recommended he find accommodation in Keswick instead!
After going home and changing out of one set of waterproofs into another, I set off to have a look around Keswick. It was soon apparent that this was at least as bad as 2009. A family I know were evacuating their property opposite Booths, and fire engines were pumping water from Penrith Road back into the River Greta. Mountain Rescue and Police Community Support Officers were everywhere.
Then I set off to Keswick Hostel, which is right next to the River Greta. I know some of the staff there, so I wanted to see if they needed any help. The river was already over the main walkway, so I went round to the back entrance and helped move things to the upstairs of the staff house.
Next day, after a long night of whistling wind and hammering rain, I went to check that Scottie was ok, and then we both went back to Keswick Hostel to check on them. The water had risen to about a foot in the night, and they were sweeping mud and water out into the river, which was still running over the walkway and right past the hostel entrance. Even at this point it was obvious that the walkway would need to be rebuilt. We stayed for a couple of hours, helping with the clean-up.
Scottie and I finally made it back to Barrow House on the Monday morning: it was actually quite a bright, dry day. The hostel itself seemed fine, but then we went round the side to inspect Barrow Beck, and I was shocked to see the gap where our footpath used to be, and how deep and wide the channel had become.
The resilience and good spirits of everyone who has helped in the recovery process has been fantastic. Thank you for your messages of support, and please come and see us soon!
Staff member Pez Bullen recalls his experience of Storm Desmond...
Looking out of the self-catering kitchen window at ‘daybreak’, I saw that the lake had already risen well into the field across the road: a good indicator of particularly heavy rain. However, this was just the starting point…
As forecast, the rain was torrential, and our waterfall was looking impressive. The more water tumbling over a waterfall, the better - surely it can only get more spectacular?
The morning passed by. A gale flung the rain at the hostel and the driveway turned into a stream. Internet updates told of roads becoming impassable, and we cancelled our guests, trying to catch them before the road closures. We few staff went on with our work, but it was difficult to concentrate.
Around lunchtime I togged up for a quick taste of the weather. The gale blew, the rain lashed down, and the light was gloomy. It was an all-day twilight. The driveway stream was in good flow. Not only was water pouring down, it was taking an abundance of debris with it. Very impressive. And not normal.
As for the impressive waterfall, it had gone beyond spectacular. The beautiful white cascading waters were now a seething, roaring torrent of rage. The ferocity of the waterfall, and the headlong rush of an enormous body of foaming brown water, was simply not natural. It truly felt like a disaster movie. Impressive and spectacular had become a little frightening.
The dismal mid-afternoon light was fading fast when I was called to the dining room. The footpath by the waterfall had become a fast-flowing stream, but the ‘sight’ was of the ground beyond the path slipping away before our eyes, into the gorge below. The beck was eroding its flank…and coming our way! Personally, I couldn’t sit there and watch the horror unfold, but reports came through periodically, such as ‘that tree’s gone now’ and ‘there goes the fence’. Where would it all end? With the side of the hostel collapsing into the beck below?!
Darkness spared us further visual horror. We huddled together in front of the fire, listening to the wind and the rain, and wondering what we would wake up to. But sleep was difficult, with the imagination stimulated by the thundering, tremoring waterfall.
A new daybreak. Storm had checked out early. The rain had stopped, the torrent had eased considerably, and the building was still standing. However, the path by the waterfall was now a cliff edge: at its narrowest point there was only a metre between the hostel and complete ruin!
The raging waters have now been replaced by a new spectacle: tonnes of boulders and 3 dextrous diggers. Our beck and foundations have been saved!